Baoulé , Objet art of the ethnic Baoulé - African-art.net
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Baoulé

 Baoule art holds a special position within the context of African art. Both the masks and statues are so finely executed that they are easily accessible for Western tastes.

The Baoule statues carved from wood are crafted in a manner that equals that of the finest goldsmith. The sculpture is very refined, the surfaces highly polished, and the representations of the scarification marks, the jewellery, the hairstyle, and of the face is extremely detailed and meticulously carried out.

There are two main types of Baoule African statues: the statue of the ‘spirit husband’ (blolo bla) or the ‘spirit wife’ (blolo bian). The statues represent a spirit whose objective is to placate them.

The spirits of nature are evoked in the statues by a sacrificial patina, and those that are favourable towards romantic relationships by a lustrous patina. The first type of statue represents the bush spirits that have an ambivalent power, and who, as often in Africa, are feared for their malevolence. In order to appease, and to obtain their favour and protection, the spirits of the bush are honoured.

There also exist masks of the ancestors which have the same characteristics as the statues; elegant, finely sculpted and polished.

In addition, there are zoomorphic masks which recall buffalo and antelope. These masks are always worn by men. They are made in a different way to the portrait masks of the ancestors in that they are more conceptual and schematic as they represent the spirits.

The Baoule people inhabit the central part of the Ivory Coast, incorporating both forest and savannah.

Baoule Religion and Rituels

The Baoule believe in a God creator called Nyamien, intangible and unattainable. Asia, the God of the earth controls man and animals. The spirits or Amuen have the gift of supernatural powers. The real world is opposed with the spiritual world, or ‘blolo’, the place where souls come from when they are born and where they return when they die. The main religious precept is the recognition of death and the immortality of the soul. The ancestors are worshipped but not represented. In the past, a death was never considered natural. The reason for the death was always sought out. The heir was the brother or the sister born of the same mother as the deceased, as there was never the certitude that the son was really the son of the father.

The creation of a new cult of worship might occur following a dream or during a possessed trance like state in which the spirit reveals itself to the dreamer and explains to him the ritual, the rules and the objects that needed to be obtained or made.

The sculptures and the wooden masks allowed for a closer contact with the world of the supernatural.

The Baoule believe that an individual is made up of a body, a double and a soul. Each human being would his own respondent in the other world: blolo. Statues are consecrated to this celestial being and gifts would be given to the statue.

 

Baoule Statues

Baoule statues correspond to two different types of worship:

  • One corresponds to the spirit husband (wife), who in order to be appeased asks for a statue to be made in the effigy of the spirit husband (wife) and for an altar to be installed in the hut of the individual concerned. The need to own a spirit husband or wife is signaled by misfortune or by the intermediary of a dream. For example, this might be following sexual problems for the man, or sterility problems for the woman. A man would have a statue of his spirit wife ‘blolo bian’, and a woman that of her spirit husband ‘blolo bla’. This statue must be taken everywhere its owner went. The owner washes it, dries it, feeds it, caresses it, hence the beautiful patina present in many examples of this type of work. After its owner’s death, the ‘blolo bian’ or ‘blolo bla’ statues were thrown away or abandoned.
  • The other type of sculpture represented a spirit that needed appeasing. The spirits of nature ‘asi asu’ can be identified by their sacrificial patina and the spirits favourable in romantic relationships by a highly lustrous and polished patina. The spirits of the forest and the bush were thought to be hideous: hunch backed, deformed feet, dirty skin, red hair, with enormous eyes and only one arm…Extremely dangerous, they could have a disastrous effect on agriculture, hunting and health. Softened by the sacrifices made to them, they could have a beneficial effect for humans. This begun with a consultation with the diviner who identified the cause of all the problems and prescribed a cure. This consisted of having statues sculpted, following the diviner’s indications of sex, stance, hairstyle and the wood to be used. The sculptor took his inspiration for the statue from the physical appearance of his client when he was in a possessed state of trance. After the death of its owner the statue is carefully preserved and the cult is worshiped by his descendants. The overall harmony of these statues of the spirits of nature comes from the fact that the spirits would not have wanted to inhabit them if they had been given their true hideous form. These statues have an idealized human aspect, with beautiful hairstyles and ethnic tattoos giving them a civilized air and making them more favourable to those who follow their cult. The remains of sacrifices is identifiable on the ‘asi asu’ statues: food, eggs, victim’s blood etc, hence the crusty patina.

 

Baoule Masks

The Baoule own masks that have undoubtedly been influenced in style by their Gouro or Senufo neighbours. There are ancestor masks, but they now have a secular role and make their appearance in entertaining dances. These portraits have the same characteristics as the statues: elegant, finely sculpted and polished. The hairstyles and tattoos reveal great regional diversity. The double mask represents the marriage of the sun and the moon, or of twins whose birth is always a lucky sign.

 

There equally exist zoomorphic masks that recall buffalo and antelope. They are always worn by men. They are made in a different way to the portrait masks of the ancestors in that they are more conceptual and schematic as they represent the spirits. In the past they were worn during funeral ceremonies to attract the favours of the afterlife spirits, heal the sick and keep away witchcraft. These masks correspond to three types of dance: the gba gba, the bonu amuen and the goli:

  • The gba gba, of Gouro origin, is used for women’s funerals during the harvest period. They celebrate beauty and age, hence the finesse of their traits.
  • The ‘bonu amuen’ protects the village from outside threats. It forces the women to have strict discipline and appears during commemorations for the death of a notary. The bush spirits have their own sanctuary where they receive sacrifices. When the spirits intervene in community life their masks take the form of a wooden helm representing a buffalo or an antelope, and are worn with raffia costumes, metal bracelets and anklets. The muzzle’s teeth symbolize the force of the animal that must defend them.
  • The goli can be danced as much for entertainment as at the occasion of an important person’s funeral. It was appropriated from the Wan after 1900. The kple kple mask has a rounded form and is crowned by two horns. The masculine mask is red and the feminine one is black (sometimes reversed in certain villages). They often appear as a pair in goli dances, and are followed by a pair of zoomorphic helm masks (Goli Glen), then by a pair of horn masks (Kpan Pre), and finally two masks of a man’s head with plaited hairstyles in the form of a crest (Kpan). Even though each pair of masks contains both feminine and masculine elements, the first two pairs are considered as having an essentially masculine personality. Goli masks are bigger and heavier than other Baoule masks.

There is also a divining instrument, called a mouse oracle, which is a small clay pot on a wooden base. The oracle is made up of two communicating floors. On the top floor, the diviner places food next to a tortoise shell containing some small bones or a piece of iron, onto which are tied some small twigs decorated with pearls. The lid is placed on the box and the wait begins for the mouse to eat the food. Next, the box is opened and the diviner deciphers the message by analyzing the position of the twigs and bones moved about by the mouse.

 

The Baoule also created monkey figures that have a prognathic jaw with pointed teeth and a gritty patina due to the sacrifices. In its hands the monkey holds a cup or a pestle. The sooner the monkey intervenes in the divination rituals the sooner there will be protection against witches, and the sooner there will be a divine protector for the agricultural rites, sometimes a bush genie. This cult is relatively recent.

The Baoule Sculptor and his Characteristics

The profession of sculptor is non hereditary among the Baoule, but comes rather through personal choice or a desire that manifests itself during a dream or a possessed trance like state.

There is frequent displacement among both the Baoule people and their works of art. This movement is an occasion not only to commission new types of sculpture, but also to adopt new styles coming from other villages. Artists may learn one style in a workshop, but go on to produce another of a very different style. Artists travel and may sometimes work for clients that live a long way from their village.

The Baoule statues carved from wood are crafted in a manner that equals that of the finest goldsmith. The sculpture is very refined, the surfaces highly polished, and the representations of the scarification marks, the jewellery, the hairstyle, and of the face is extremely detailed and meticulously carried out.

 

Baoule sculpture is characterized by a certain realism, with the canons of beauty of the Baoule people: rounded calves for the women, long hands with slender fingers and small bottoms. The harmonious hairstyles are made up of a large number of finely plaited tresses. The beards are neat and sometimes plaited. The patina is smooth.

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